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Listen and act smarter to attract and retain female talent

Hillary Brown

Despite girls outperforming boys in school, and more women attending university than men, women are less likely to study STEM fields and enter STEM careers, as evidenced in a report by the World Bank, which found that women hold less than 20% of tech leadership roles and 39% of women in tech see gender bias as a hindrance to getting a promotion.

With technical innovation already playing a crucial role in almost every sector of the economy, we need more people to be active in the workforce and importantly, we need more women to ensure diversity of thought. This applies particularly in AI where the risk of bias in AI systems, resulting from data sourced predominantly from men or based on male profiles in the design stages, is a very real and significant risk which could disadvantage women’s lives.


Innovation happens when we approach urgent challenges from every different point of view. Bringing women and underrepresented minorities into the field guarantees that we see the full range of solutions to the real problems that people face in the world.

– Melinda Gates, philanthropist and former GM at Microsoft


With such a glaring gap, this raises the question of why. What is creating this bias and what can we do?

The good news is that, increasingly, the C-suite understand that diverse companies are more innovative, creative, and productive when they employ a more diverse workforce, and this is shown in the hard metrics of increased revenues. Companies now recognise that they not only need to hire diverse tech talent, but they also need to create the right environment and experience, addressing all areas of the employee journey, from recruitment, onboarding, recognition and beyond.

It feels like a simple equation; We know that bringing women into roles in technology is critical, we know more women are revaluating their careers and considering STEM, and it’s a priority for many CEOs. So, why are we still facing issues when it comes to growing the number of women represented in STEM?

The answer isn’t one-dimensional. Many organisations have gone some way in their attempt to recognise and address the disparity, setting targets, and showcasing female role models on career pages and key moments, such as International Women’s Day. Whilst better representation is one element and tracking data on representation within businesses is crucial, there is still a long way to travel. Businesses need to go beyond this, spending time listening, and more importantly, taking action.

To understand what and where organisations need to act, we believe in understanding the bigger picture. You wouldn’t give the answer before understanding the question! Too often the focus is solely on the marginalised audience, which is just one part of the story. If women have identified barriers to entry, we need to map the different touchpoints on their journey, only then can businesses understand what is stopping women from considering your company, applying for a role, getting through to the interview stage, being selected, offered a role or staying.


All of this involves listening and understanding other audiences, for example:

  • If it’s a lack of visible female role models, what are the behaviours we need to address and enable within women already within STEM?
  • What are potential new recruits, or talent looking for when considering their career with an organisation and how do you avoid digital gender stereotypes?
  • What information or education do hiring managers have or need to enable inclusive, equal hiring and decision-making?
  • Are the people team, able to positively influence policies or benefits to make them more female-friendly in line with the barriers e.g., flexibility?
  • Do we know enough about women who are revaluating their careers or thinking about a career in STEM? Can the learning team do more to promote the right digital skills and education?
  • How are senior leaders supporting female entrepreneurship and progression in the organisation?

There are core skills involved in listening. Experience has taught us that, done well, this is an opportunity for engagement as well as unearthing human truths, insights, and solutions. Active listening also fosters an inclusive environment, enhances cross-cultural communication, and promotes a sense of belonging, helping to improve talent retention. Simply put, when people feel seen and heard within a business they want to stay working there as the everyday environment they work in is inclusive.

By providing psychological safety, and an open environment where people won’t be punished or humiliated for speaking up when it comes to listening, we can address social exclusion and support constructive ideation to improve organisational processes and functions.

We believe in applying innovation through a range of smart technologies supplemented with human interaction, to make sharing views, easy and conversational. While there is still a place for traditional focus groups and surveys, the pandemic taught us that we need to make listening as easy as possible with different audiences in mind. This is where listening and finding innovative solutions come into play.

Finally, we have found the application of behavioural science to better understand the psychology of human behaviour, helping influence positive change in the right way and with a deeper impact.

Organisations, particularly those in STEM, need to offer the solutions that enable women to succeed. That’s why businesses need to invest time and energy into listening, understanding, and taking positive action, based on their findings, to attract and retain female talent. Doing a survey once a year as a tick-box activity won’t give you the solutions. Businesses need the full picture and actionable data underpinned by science. Attracting more women into STEM involves listening, hearing the reasons that are preventing people from joining sectors or businesses, and taking positive action to remove barriers.